SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – Jewish leaders in Australia slammed the federal government’s proposed amendments to the nation’s race hate laws.
On Tuesday, the Liberal government unveiled a draft of the legislation to amend laws that have existed for almost 20 years. The laws have been used successfully by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry to litigate against Holocaust deniers, religious extremists and anti-Semites.
Under the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, it would no longer be illegal to “offend, insult or humiliate” an Australian because of his race or ethnicity. It would, however, be illegal to vilify or intimidate someone based on his race or ethnicity.
Robert Goot, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said the draft law was “deeply flawed” and “rips up key protections” for ethnic groups in Australia.
“This legislation gives the green light to unleashing racial hate speech in Australia, no matter how unreasonable and lacking in good faith,” he said.
Dr. Colin Rubenstein, of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, said, “To pass the amendments as they stand would risk emboldening racists, threatening the quality of life of ethnic minorities in Australia, and seriously straining the fabric of our social cohesion and harmony.”
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott defended the changes in parliament.
“What the government is proposing to do is to maintain the red light on inciting racial hatred, but we are removing the amber light on free speech,” he said.
Prior to elections, the government pledged last year to repeal the race hate laws in a bid to protect freedom of speech.